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Powhatan and his people: The 15,000 American Indians shoved aside by Jamestown’s settlers

JAMESTOWN, Va. — The powerful American Indian chief, known as Powhatan, had refused the English settlers’ demands to return stolen guns and swords at Jamestown, Va., so the English retaliated. They killed 15 of the Indian men, burned their houses and stole their corn. Then they kidnapped the wife of an Indian leader and her children and marched them to the English boats.

They put the children to death by throwing them overboard and “shooting out their brains in the water,” wrote George Percy, a prominent English settler in Jamestown.

And their orders for the leader’s wife: Burn her.

Percy wrote, “Having seen so much bloodshed that day now in my cold blood I desired to see no more and for to burn her I did not hold it fitting but either by shot or sword to give her a quicker dispatch.”

She was spared, but only briefly. Two Englishmen took her to the woods, Percy wrote, and “put her to the sword.”

The woman was one of 15,000 American Indians living in the Tidewater area along the shores of the York and James rivers in 1607 when the first English settlers arrived in Virginia. Her violent death is symbolic of the underlying tensions that lasted for centuries between the whites and the Indians.

On Tuesday, President Trump mentioned the Native Americans in passing at the 400th anniversary of the first representative government in Jamestown. The colonists, he said in a speech, “endured by the sweat of their labor, the aid of the Powhatan Indians, and the leadership of Captain John Smith.”

Jamestown is also marking the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans, but the descendants of Powhatan worry their place in the history is often overlooked.

“Jamestown has been the story of the birthplace of America,” said Ashley Atkins Spivey, an anthropologist and member of the Pamunkey tribe, which was among the first Indians the settlers encountered and which now has roughly 400 members.

“You can’t talk about the ‘first government’ without talking about the American Indian people and a government that were already here,” Atkins Spivey said.

“We are the first Americans,” she said. “We were here, and we still exist in Virginia today.”

The Pamunkey tribe’s reservation lies an hour from Jamestown, past fields of corn and soybeans in mostly wooded wetlands that twist along the river. Sixty enrolled tribal members live on the 1,200 acres of the reservation.

The tribe traces its roots back 10,000 years to the Tidewater area, and its reservation is said to be one of the oldest in the country. For 35 years, Pamunkey tribal leaders sought federal recognition. In 2015, they became the first tribe in the state to get it, and were followed by six others in Virginia. Now, the Pamunkey are seeking approval to open Virginia’s first casino, in the Norfolk area.

But 400 years ago, the Indians ruled the Tidewater.

Read entire article at The Washington Post